Saturday, 30 June 2018 : 12th Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of the First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Green or Red (Martyrs) or White (Saturday Mass of Our Lady)

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the first reading today, we listened about the humiliation of Israel, because of their sins and disobedience, they have been rejected by God, as they have rejected God first. The people of Israel had been uprooted from the land given to their ancestors, and had to endure humiliation in exile, because they were not faithful to the Covenant which God had made with them.

And they therefore had to endure the punishment due for their rebelliousness, and endure the bitter consequences that arise because of their own stubbornness and refusal to repent, despite the many reminders and the constant promptings from the Lord through His messengers and prophets. Instead, they hardened their hearts and persecuted those whom the Lord had sent to call them to return to Him.

Yet, the Lord in His most tender love and gracious mercy, was always ever willing to extend His generous offer of mercy and forgiveness to all of us. Through sin we have been sundered and cut off from His love and cast away from His grace, but through sincere and genuine repentance, all of us have been given the way out of our predicament, that is none other than, following the path that the Lord Jesus Christ, Our God, has shown us.

And in today’s Gospel passage, we heard about how the Lord encountered a faithful army centurion or captain, who came to Him asking for a favour of healing to his very sick servant, who was dear to him. In this passage, we heard the amazing and unusual action of the centurion, who, when the Lord was about to go into his house in order to heal the sick servant, uttered the words that we now utter at every celebrations of the Holy Mass.

‘Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.’ These were the words of the centurion, who later then added, ‘Just say the word, and my servant shall be healed.’ In these two sentences alone, were summed up the great profession of faith and sincere prayer made by the centurion to the Lord. Such a great faith amazed the Lord, Who immediately granted all that the centurion had asked for, and the servant was healed.

First of all, we must understand how, as an army centurion, it was likely that the centurion did not belong to the race of the Jewish people, or followed the Jewish traditions and faith. It was likely that he was both a Gentile or non-Jew, and a pagan. According to the customs and practices at that time, it was taboo for a Jew to enter into the house of a pagan and Gentile, as it would, according to the Jewish customs, defile the person.

That was why, the centurion, who was likely aware of this custom, would not want the Lord to be defiled by his non-Jewish and pagan background. And yet, through the words he said, in fact, as the Lord Himself pointed out, the centurion showed a pure and genuine faith, that was not found even among the Jews themselves. First of all, he admitted openly his sinfulness and unworthiness to receive the Lord into his humble abode. This is a trait that many of us did not have with us.

Then, he was filled with such a great faith and trust in the Lord, knowing that even if the Lord did not directly perform miraculous deeds or touch his servant to heal him, just through a word of the Lord, his servant would be immediately healed. The centurion trusted in the Lord so greatly, that he was totally unlike the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who had seen so many of the miracles and deeds performed by the Lord Jesus, but still refused to believe.

How many of us are able to be as humble and as faithful as the centurion? Do we truly love the Lord our God, with all of our heart, and give Him the very best of our attention and focus? Have we been true Christians in all of our actions and dealings? We are all called to follow in the footsteps of the faithful centurion, and truly mean it, every time we say at the Mass, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under My roof.”

Now, today, we also celebrate the feast of the first martyrs of the Holy Roman Church. On this day, we celebrate those courageous members of the faithful who suffered the first great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire under the reign of the Emperor Nero. This feast is celebrated a day after the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, as it was likely that the two holy Apostles were martyred in Rome as part of this great persecution.

At that time, the Christian faith was flourishing in every parts of the Empire, despite the challenges they encountered from various origins. Many of the faithful also lived in the city of Rome, the capital of the Empire. And more and more of the faithful were added to the Church with every passing moment, as the fruits of the dedication and hard work shown by the Apostles and the disciples of the Lord.

Then, in the year 64 AD, a great fire engulfed most of the city of Rome, one which, according to historians, was started by the eccentric Emperor Nero himself, who quickly laid the blame of the fire on the growing Christian community. Hence, the first great persecution of the faithful began, and many were forced to choose between abandoning their faith and losing their lives.

Yet, many of the faithful, including St. Peter and St. Paul remained true to their faith, and refused to bend to the demands of those who persecuted them. They remained true to their faith in God, and devoted themselves wholeheartedly, and committed themselves, to the very end, courageously declaring their faith to the One Who has saved them from eternal damnation.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, having heard of the examples set by the faithful centurion and the first holy martyrs of the Roman Church, shall we all be inspired by those examples that they have set? Shall we follow in their footsteps, and learn to commit ourselves more wholeheartedly to the Lord, in all the things that we say and do? This is our calling as Christians, and we are all challenged to be ever better Christians, day after day.

May the Lord bless us all, and may He strengthen each and every one of us in our faith. May He continue to watch over us and may He remain with us, on our side, through the challenges and trials of life, that we may remain wholly faithful to Him, at every moments of our life. First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, pray for us all, sinners still living in this world. Amen.

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